What are the latest scores on the ‘impact of automation’ doors?

What are the latest scores on the ‘impact of automation’ doors?


This latest piece of research from the World Economic Forum, collects views of business executives with an interest in the changing workforce (such as Chief Human Resource Officers, Chief Strategy Officers and Chief Executives). It covered over 300 global companies from a wide range of industry sectors, which it suggests represents more than 15 million employees from 20 developed and emerging economies (roughly amounting to 70% of global GDP). It’s a meaty report.

There’s a lot to cover off (which we invite you to do so at your leisure), but let’s look at the topline.

In short, it says that machines will do more tasks than humans by 2025. And whilst that means that some 75 million jobs could be displaced by 2022, let’s not panic…. As the rapid increase of machines and algorithms could also create some 133 million jobs within that same time period.

If maths isn’t your strong point, that’s a potential 58 million net jobs that will be generated in the next four years. That all sounds like good news doesn’t it? Well, yes, for the most part it is. Although there are some concerns. Notably around the availability of skilled resource and upskilling.

54% of employees of large companies would need significant re- and up-skilling to harness the growth opportunities offered by this so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. Although just over half of the companies said they planned to reskill those employees that are in key roles, only one third planned to reskill at-risk workers.

And whist nearly 50% of all companies expect their full-time workforce to shrink by 2022 as a result of automation, almost 40% expect to extend their workforce generally and more than a quarter expect automation to create new roles in their enterprise.

So, what are the roles that people think are set to increase? Amongst them are data analysts and scientists, software and applications developers, and ecommerce and social media specialists (aka those which are significantly based on or enhanced by technology). No great surprise. Those also considered to be ‘safe’ are those that use ‘human skills,’ such as sales and marketing, innovation managers and customer service workers. Those most at risk are the more routine-based white-collar roles, such as data entry clerks, accounting and payroll clerks.

The report goes on to explore several key observations from respondents in relation to the impact of automation.

First up was change management strategies and how they were planning on dealing with the new work landscape. Three main strategies were flagged. 1) Hire entire forces of new permanent staff with the skills relevant to new technologies. 2) Automate work tasks completely 3) Retrain existing employees. There was also a smaller number of companies who plan to allocate the work to specialist contractors, freelancers and temporary workers.

Next in line for comment was the future of jobs across industries. This noted that respondents were concerned that the future of jobs is not singular and there will be disparate impacts across industries. What the report findings suggest, however, is that there are potential opportunities for coordinated job position strategies across industries.

Allen Blue, Co-founder of LinkedIn says, "Knowing which occupations are growing and declining globally is a starting place for policymakers, educators, and employers to start conversations on how to transition the global workforce to the jobs and skills of tomorrow. To help people connect to economic opportunity on the individual level, it's important to map and understand today's labor market dynamics at scale."

Thirdly, there was much talk about the future of jobs across regions. It makes perfect sense that the impact of automation will vary across countries and regions. 74% of companies said that the availability of skilled local talent was their top priority when considering where certain jobs should be located. Region-specific roles expected to be in growing demand included Financial and Investment Advisors in East Asia and the Pacific and Western Europe; Assembly and Factory Workers in Latin America and the Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa; and Electrotechnology Engineers in North America. Across all countries and regions, employers expect that significant reskilling will be needed by a large share of the global workforce over the 2018-2022 period. 

And finally, the report turned to the need to shape a human-centred future for jobs. Essentially this mooted that to embrace the potential of this new era for change and innovation, business, government and workers must proactively plan for it. Each must take ownership for their role – whether that’s governments addressing the impact of new technologies on labour markets by upgrading education systems aimed at upskilling the workforce; to businesses upskilling their current workforce; to the individual taking responsibility for their own learning through this transition phase.

There’s obviously a lot more to this report than what we’ve included here. Yet in short, automation is a-coming. And there’s boundless opportunity for those who’re prepared to prepare for it.

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum said, “It is critical that business take an active role in supporting their existing workforces through reskilling and upskilling, that individuals take a proactive approach to their own lifelong learning, and that governments create an enabling environment to facilitate this workforce transformation. This is the key challenge of our time.”


Wednesday, 19 September 2018

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